AN UNPROFITABLE VENTURE
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters from BTVS or Spice and Wolf and I earn no profit by writing this.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Thanks to Storyseeker for his help in reviewing this. As usual, if you have any comments or preferences, please don’t be shy. RandR.
They had arrived in a lightly wooded area, not far from what appeared to be a road. Xander looked about warily, but saw no immediate threats. He turned to Faith just as she finished her own assessment.
The slayer shrugged. “Looks normal. Let’s check the road. We find people, maybe we’ll find out why we’re here.” Xander nodded and they made for the road where they could make out what looked like a horse-drawn wagon with two people in it.
They had almost reached the road, still mostly hidden by the trees, when shouts from the other side of the road made them pause. Moving forward carefully, the two concealed themselves as a small group of bandits surrounded the wagon. Three were armed with swords, and two carried crossbows. The wagon had stopped and the two intended victims were calmly surveying the situation. The man kept his expression neutral, but the woman seemed irritated.
“Better lend a hand,” Faith sighed. She didn’t like fighting humans. It brought back bad memories. “Come on.”
It was a quick fight. The highwaymen barely had time to notice they were under attack. Xander and Faith took out the archers first, moving through a pattern that had served them well on their own world and several of the more violent other worlds they’d been sent to. The bandits were fairly unskilled, and Faith wasn’t even breathing hard by the time the five men were soundly beaten and bound for whatever passed for the authorities. Xander had picked up a scratch or two dealing with two at once, but he barely noticed.
“We appreciate your intervention,” the man said, looking down at them. He introduced himself and his companion and offered them a ride to the next town. They really were, it seemed, in the middle of nowhere. Both hunters gratefully accepted, as there was no immediate sign of a new portal. They reasoned, after a brief discussion, that their work wasn’t done yet.
The wagon was slow, but the sacks were fairly comfortable. The man, a peddler by trade, said they were full of pepper. The woman took an interest in them and briefly questioned them about their business in the woods, and about themselves. The two kept their answers vague out of necessity and the woman let them be after a time. She and her companion returned to their earlier discussion, asking him about the bandits and whether such attacks were common along the road.
“Not along this road. It is fairly well protected, making robbery here a high-risk profession. Even though the profits can be high, most bandits prefer to minimize their risk by hunting less heavily patrolled areas.”
The two hunters traded a curious look. It seemed their host was a merchant through and through, as he seemed to see everything in terms of commerce, a subject that bored them both, and they soon tuned out the discussion of currency transactions and the price of various commodities. The subject seemed to fascinate the woman, though.
Neither one had failed the notice that the woman wore a long dress and a hood that almost entirely hid her features. As far as they knew, that could be the fashion for women in this dimension, but they could think of other reasons for dressing like that. Faith let her eyelids droop while she concentrated on her other senses. She could normally tell when she was in the presence of a demon, and there was something odd about the woman.
She frowned after a moment and nudged Xander. After so long together, they needed no verbal communication. He casually moved into a position that would allow him to rise and attack quickly if he needed to, but he waited on Faith’s signal. To his surprise, she indicated he should wait. “Lawrence,” she called to the other man, after readying herself, something that had not escaped the woman’s notice.
“Yes?” he asked, oblivious to the sudden tension in the wagon.
“You do know your friend here isn’t human, right?”
Lawrence turned to look at her, seeming only vaguely surprised. After a measuring look, he nodded. “Yes. I know.” He seemed perfectly at ease with the admission and not at all worried about his companion. “Is there a problem?”
“No,” Faith answered, relaxing slightly. Xander hesitated a moment longer, but he relaxed as well, and their hosts returned to their talk of business after a time.
The Slayer still kept an eye on the woman but was more curious than wary. She had never felt a presence quite like the hooded woman. After a time, she leaned over to Xander and whispered. “I’m stumped. What do you suppose she is?”
Xander just shrugged. “I dunno. Based on the conversation, I’d say Ferengi.”
Faith rolled her eyes. “Geek.”